Sunday, May 20, 2012

TAKE TEN MINUTES TO CONSIDER THE "EVOLUTION OF EMPATHY" (ten minutes that will explain all you need to know about our current political divide)

       I found this video by Jeremy Rivkin on Crooks and Liars, only intended to watch a moment or two to see if it would catch my imagination, and ended up watching the entire vid twice.  If you sit back, take the time to just absorb the information (presented in an entertaining animation style), you might arrive at the same conclusion I did:  empathy, or the lack thereof, explains our current political differences to a TEE.

       Have you ever wondered how it is that some of us can look at the less fortunate, the infirm, or those who are suffering from geopolitical strife or natural disasters with eye toward lending a hand, helping any way we can, while others among us see those individuals as somehow threatening, or deserving of their fate?  I call it the "I/Me/Mine" philosophy of life, and it applies whenever you take a close look at conservatives and their policies.  Conservatives will respond that this is nonsense, citing studies that show their charitable donations equal or exceed those of progressives.  What conservatives don't want to admit is that their generosity tends to be rooted exclusively in taking care of "their own"; their church, their extended families, those of their race, ethnicity, religion.  In other words, their "kind".
        I've noticed this in family settings when the traditional holiday discussions turn to politics.  People who are normally the most generous and loving of folks suddenly turn on their heels and slam an emotional/intellectual door on any notion of empathy for the poor, the downtrodden, the elderly (not all elderly, just old folks who don't share their bloodline or community of friends).
        What's missing is an empathy gene, a trigger that kicks in among those of us who feel a sense of community with total strangers in need.  That "trigger" doesn't kick in with conservatives.  What they feel in response to events or information that others might find compelling is a sense of "It's not my problem" or "I got mine, let 'em get theirs".  It's as primal and defensive as anything a cave dwelling troglodyte might have felt a hundred thousand years ago.  They are empathetic only for their own, their tribe, their fellow cave-dwellers.  Not those assholes in the caves on the other side of the mountain... those are the "others", and need to be watched with suspicion.
         How else does one explain the stunning lack of empathy some otherwise well-adjusted modern people display in their economic and political policies?  They are incapable of seeing the suffering of others through their own experiences, and unwilling to assist unless there is a compelling reciprocation of benefits for their actions.
         Maybe one reason conservative fundamentalists have so much trouble with the theory of evolution is because part of their brain development simply hasn't evolved. 
         They have a missing empathy gene.


Sarge said...

I seen that in my own family. Dad gives $50 a year to the Rescue Mission - a shelter for homeless
men. I had a relative demand that Dad justify doing that. His point was that Dad was subsidizing sloth.
Well Evansville got hit bad with the recession and then Whirlpool Corp moved out.
These people got to go somewhere!
Dad disagreed and told Mike to get the fuck out. I loved it!

I was impressed even more with that old guy that day.


The Reckmonster said...

I see the lack of empathy every day. If folks took a moment to imagine what it might be like to walk in someone else's shoes, they sure would be a lot more likely to prioritize the "moneys" in much different ways.

I'm so over all of the religious zealots. I've decided that the difference between being spiritual and religious is about 20 i.q. points.

squatlo said...

Reck (nice to hear from your AWOL ass again) Bill Maher said it best. He said there were religious people and sane people.

Mooner In The Perti Dish said...

Squat. Wow! I've never seen the dots connected this way and I'm stunned at the conclusion.

I'mma steal this and think on it.

BTW- speaking of empathy (or it's lacking), check out Ben Seargent's single-framer from yesterday's Austin American Statesman.

squatlo said...

Mooner, my hard drive is screwing up and won't let me open certain sites. I'm replacing it later this week, so I might never hear from any of you again after that.

I've got the new drive, but I'm techno-impaired...

squatlo said...

Amber (Squatlo's daughter, who can't figure out how to leave a comment but did share the following via email today concerning this post):

If being globally connected is increasing our capacity for empathy, and we are indeed moving toward a kinder planet, then yay for us! But I wouldn't make any bets on it.
Call me cynical, but I sort of get the feeling that our connectivity is mostly motivated by economic concerns, and financial ambition does not lend itself to empathy. It's the I/me/mine philosophy, but with a friendly smile. It's not empathy, but globalized customer service. "China loves you! Buy our shit!" (I'm not saying that instances like Haiti aren't genuine, I'm saying that they're a rare byproduct of connectivity and not the primary reason for it). -I love the idea that people could one day have sing-alongs and communal hair-braidings, but I'm not ready to discount the evolutionary significance of self-preservation.
Anyway, like the guy said, if the world were designed to be a Utopia, empathy never would have been needed. That's kind of beautiful... because it's a design that forces us together. Motivates love and companionship and all the rest of that gooey stuff that makes life nice.
-I love your theory of the conservative's missing gene. This could be applied to other people as well, I think.

squatlo said...

Squatlo: I've been trying to convince my daughter to write her own blog, and as you can see she'd be damn good at it!

She's working on her second novel, as well as a collection of short stories, so her writing time is limited.

Wish we'd hear more from her!

Ol'Buzzard said...

Great video: thanks

but: i believe our allegiance and solidarity with blood groups and religious doctrine in our micro-environment will always supersede our ability for empathy for other species and human kind in general.

I think we over estimate human intelligence - The majority of people are living in the bottom three rungs of Maslow's Hierarchy. They are not capable of empathy for others beyond their tribe.
the Ol-Buzzard